James Morrison at the Guildhall (04/02/12)

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February saw James Morrison’s long awaited return to the stage as he stopped off at Southampton on his nationwide tour. The gig was well received and definitely worth the long wait as fans heard an eclectic mix of singles, originating from his former and current albums.

After an hour-long wait, the support act Rainy Boy Sleep made his entrance. Despite the name, his songs had anything but a soporific effect – catchy lyrics, a strong, edgy voice and bizarre guitar acrobatics kept the crowd on its toes which was the perfect warm-up act.

Since appearing on the BBC Introducing stage and performing with Cyndi Lauper last year, Rainy Boy Sleep – otherwise known as Stevie Martin – has been putting himself firmly on the music map thanks to the haunting combination of simple acoustics and powerfully pure vocals that his tracks offer. He did not disappoint; if the crowd’s applause was a little unenthusiastic it was only out of frustration, waiting for the headline act.

The stage and crowd truly came alive as James Morrison made his entrance. The band comprised electric guitarists, a pianist, a drummer and some impressive backing vocals while Morrison sported his trademark acoustic guitar throughout the performance. His new album The Awakening started the night off, with performances of tracks including ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ and ‘Up’ (originally featuring Jessie J). One of the female vocalists stepped up to the microphone and happily took on her role.

The new tracks showed off a more mature artist, one who, in his own words, has graduated from a mullet-esque hairstyle. In between songs, the cheeky singer endeared himself further to the audience with his song-writing anecdotes. He admitted that popular tune ‘Slave to the Music’ was inspired by a drunken vision of the late Michael Jackson who encouraged him to fight his writer’s block with an upbeat tempo and soulful melody. Indeed, the song definitely has the motown vibe indicative of the King of Pop’s style of the eighties. The crowd danced enthusiastically to the opening set, while enjoying the singing as Morrison offered the microphone on several occasions.

Following this punchy opening, James moved on to his classics; ‘Wonderful World, You Give Me Something’ ‘and Precious Love’ which were well received by the audience and the lively atmosphere was only heightened by Morrison’s clear elation. The singer appealed to fellow musicians with guitar solos and high pitched final notes, whilst playing to the females in the audience with air kisses and serenades for the front row. Without a doubt, everyone enjoyed the old classics and revelled in the fact that he is most definitely at his best on stage.

James Morrison was certainly a joker when it came to endings, and perhaps for some people a joker from the beginning – it took him two hours following our entrance to the Guildhall and half an hour following the support act to appear. However, having never seen him live previously, I was blown away by the performance.

The Guildhall made for an intimate venue and Morrison’s no frill approach to the staging left him nowhere to hide any less than perfect vocals. I have always treasured his music as part of my easy-listening collection but hearing his songs on stage elevated his status for me as a singer. Morrison’s engagement with his fans and the beautiful tone to his voice rendered the night truly memorable.

I definitely graduated from a fan of James Morrison as a recording artist to a fan of James Morrison as a performer and it’s highly recommend seeing him live to fully experience his talent. He has shaken off his out of date label and reasserted himself as a current artist. We should definitely sit up and take notice.

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